MSN Platform to Put Ads in Web Software

NEW YORK Microsoft previewed a suite of Web-distributed software that it plans to add to its new MSN adCenter online advertising network.

New Internet services called Windows Live and Office Live take a page from Google’s book by offering free software supported by targeted advertising. The programs will include placements through MSN adCenter, a wide-ranging platform that advertisers will be able to use to run ads on everything from search and Web pages to mobile devices and Internet television.

Windows Live includes Microsoft’s e-mail, instant messaging and anti-virus programs. Office Live is an Internet-based version of the popular suite of productivity tools Outlook, Excel and Live Meeting. It has an ad-supported small-business version that includes a Web site, storage and five e-mail accounts. It is slated for release early next year, Microsoft said.

In September, Microsoft reorganized its corporate structure, placing MSN within a unit that encompasses Windows and its other consumer software products.

MSN executives have described adCenter, which is currently in testing to place search ads, as eventually becoming a “one-stop shop” for advertisers to target audiences on MSN, Xbox, third-party sites and users of its software. It targets ads based on aggregated user information from Hotmail and other MSN site registrations and matches it to third-party data sources.

That would put MSN in a collision course with Google’s AdWords system, which has evolved from handling paid search to include contextual listings and display ads. Google recently began experimenting with placing print ads, and executives have made clear AdWords could be used to place ads in several forms of media.

Microsoft’s interest in ad-supported software led it to hold talks this summer to acquire Claria, an adware maker, though executives decided against the move after criticism arose about Claria’s past business practices. Claria built a 50-million installation base by bundling its pop-up advertising software with free programs like file-sharing services. Critics maintained many users unwittingly downloaded the advertising software, a charge Claria has disputed.